Chris Ower’s Story
In 1974, the Department of the Environment acquired College Farm from the Express Dairy, to use as exchange land for open space land owned by the Borough of Barnet that they needed for proposed road improvements at Henly’s Corner. The farm became a pawn and lay desolate. Locals were delighted when a young farmer, Chris Ower, took a lease on College Farm and the animals came back into the fields.chris & jane
Chris Ower was brought up in Islington. He first started work in the London theatres backstage and progressed to scenic services at the B.B.C.’s Television Centre. Through his love of horses he started riding and breeding horses with his father from a small holding in Hertfordshire. They had a number of horses and to economise Chris learnt the skills to produce his own hay for them. He soon became an agricultural contractor , buying standing crops and renting fields, making and baling hay and straw and producing grain crops, whilst still working at the B.B.C.
Chris remembers College Farm vividly as a school child, having been taken there on trips from Islington. He passed the farm on his way to work everyday and was very upset to see that the farm was so run down. In 1975 he contacted the Ministry to ask if he could cut the grass for hay, they were more than pleased to have it cleared. On enquiring if he could harrow and fertilise the land that Winter for a crop the next year, he was informed that they wanted to rent out the whole farm to a tenant who would live there. Chris jumped at the opportunity to bring back to life this historic farm.
He and his wife, Jane, moved into the nearly derelict farm, in 1976, putting all their own money into renovations. He built stables and developed a livery yard and then a riding school, whilst still maintaining his job at the B.B.C. until 1978. He always involved the local community and put on many equestrian events.
owersChris and Jane purchased a few farm animals for their own enjoyment. It was not long before local schools were asking to bring classes of children to see the animals. The number of animals grew, the general public started to come and school trips were given guided tours. No charge was made for this, he funded all of this himself out of his own income from his feed and saddlery shop. From 1980 Country Fairs with extra entertainments were held monthly ,where a small charge was made and local volunteers formed the Friends of College Farm to help plan and run the days events .
Chris unable to get finance due to the type of tenancy he had, was facing bankruptcy in 1986. Then with the help of Spike Milligan there was a television appeal on Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life programme to sort things out with the Ministry. Although no secure future for the farm was won donations poured in and the farm centre was able to develop, from which time a small charge was made, enabling the day to day expenses to be met.35,000 people were able to enjoy this ‘oasis’ each year.
College Farm remained open until the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001.
Chris vowed to work towards securing the farm’s future.
With the help of local societies, the local press and the public’s support Chris has achieved many things, hard fought for, with the aim of ensuring the farm had a future.
grade 2 listed1986 – College Farm designated a Grade 2 listed building of architectural and historical interest, instigated by Chris.
1989 – College Farm was designated a conservation area, again instigated by Chris.
1996 – Chris stopped plans to develop parts of the farm for housing, by having created an agricultural tenancy, which the Ministry could not ignore.
1998 – Chris set up the College farm Trust to obtain the farm for future generations to enjoy.